LUMBERTON A proposal to create a facility in Lumberton for Burlington County's homeless population drew about 70 people Tuesday to an informational meeting at First Baptist Church of Mount Holly, where most speakers challenged the plan.
"Thank you for having open ears," Madelyn Spears, president of Citizens Serving the Homeless (CSH), the Mount Holly-based nonprofit seeking to create the facility, said at the start of the meeting. "We are waiting to hear your concerns."
CSH representatives began the meeting with a 10-minute video that told the stories of a half-dozen homeless people from around the county. Sympathetically presented, the video sought to dispel myths and negative stereotypes about homelessness. Several of the subjects told of how a sudden job loss or medical crisis left them unable to pay bills, forcing them from their homes.
Most of the dozen or Lumberton residents who stepped to the microphones afterward expressed compassion for the plight of homeless people, but said they thought the proposed site, in a residential neighborhood on Municipal Drive, was a bad idea. It would lower property values, attract vagrants, and expose children and other residents to mentally unstable people traveling to and from the site, they said.
"A lot of us are very curious as to why this location," said Dan Wise of Lumberton, who said it was not near any social-service providers or transportation, but within a mile of three schools.
"We're not opposed to helping the homeless," Wise said, "but it's going to have a major impact on a small town."
Kimberly Fisher, also of Lumberton, called herself an "advocate for the homeless" and said she has had family members who were homeless, but she also said she feared a shelter would likely attract people who would live in the nearby woods and strain the local police force.
"I believe Burlington County needs a homeless shelter," Fisher said. "I just think Lumberton is not the proper place."
The county's homeless population in 2013 was estimated at more than 1,300 over the course of the year. Many assisted by the county stay in motels.
CSH officials did not provide a detailed description of the facility they envision, saying that Tuesday's meeting was intended primarily to hear residents' concerns. They said they would provide a PowerPoint-type presentation at the next information meeting.
In response to questions, however, Spears said CSH would soon make application to the township for a facility, to be called Community of Hope, that would provide housing, medical services, drug and mental health counseling, along with job training and placement, for 50 to 60 men.
She challenged news reports that said her organization envisioned a facility serving 300 residents, but later was noncommittal as to how many it might ultimately serve.
A Lumberton woman who identified herself as Judy said she thought CSH was being "dishonest" about how many beds it intended to create. "You want to get your foot in the door," she said, "and then increase it."
Spears replied that there was no fixed number and that "you have to get 300 [beds] out of our heads."
Spears said that residents would be vetted by the county's Department of Social Services, and that people with Megan's law violations and other antisocial tendencies would be excluded.